Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

If not DRM, what then? (Part I)

Share |
If not DRM, what then? (Part I)
Over the next few days, I’m going to discuss DRM – Digital Rights Management – a way of “locking” a digital product, such as an ebook, to control its distribution. This has become a controversial topic for many reasons, with a general perception that writers are, or should be, dead set against it.
Many cultural commentators would have you believe that DRM is loathed by all but ebook distributors and hardware manufacturers like Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble, because it ties the consumer to a platform. While this is somewhat true, it’s of less concern if you choose a platform with client software for all major devices, such as Kindle or Kobo. These distributors make apps for most platforms, so you can maintain your library if you change allegiance. In other words, if you are concerned that one day you will switch from something like a Samsung tablet to an iPad, your can buy your ebooks on Kobo, because Kobo maintains apps for both platforms. Once you’re on your new device, you can re-download the books you enjoyed on your previous device.
For me as a writer, DRM is a way of making it difficult to distribute my work without authorization. With the widespread distribution of music and movies and now books via the Internet, the public is clearly without conscience when it comes to disregarding copyright. In this climate, the worst thing you can do is make it easy. If I’m reading a book and loving it, I can email you and tell you that you must read it – but how much better if I simply attach the unprotected ebook to my email message, and in minutes, you can be reading it too. DRM complicates this process by inserting a critical step, a mild but important impediment, to the process: you need to software unlock the file, to remove the DRM. While it's not terribly difficult to do, it does require a certain degree of technical savvy and comfort. And it’s illegal.
If the work is already out there on the Internet, on a torrent site, already cracked, that still requires steps for its acquisition: first hunt for the torrent file (after wading through a bunch of bogus sites, festering with malware), download it, launch your torrent client, and wait for it to download.
You probably lock the doors to your house when you go out, lock your car doors. Do you expect impenetrability? Certainly not, but you would like to protect yourself from casual intruders. This is like DRM: not foolproof, but better than nothing, and its protection of a file forces the potential sharer to expend effort if they are intent on sharing.
If however, you leave the format wide open, it doesn’t make the act of sharing seem illicit. If you make it easy, you make it (seem) legal.
I’m not saying there aren’t deep problems with DRM. Why should the distributors and hardware manufacturers hold the keys to your ebook’s copy protection? We need to lobby not for the removal of protection for our work, but for a unified system of licensing shared by all manufacturers. The user would receive license for the property through a central distributor, rather than the manufacturer/distributor. This should actually be the publisher, the body that has traditionally controlled and managed the copyright of the properties they represent.
We'll talk next about the concept of "intellectual property," and the way the physical properties of media were themselves a form of DRM — before the digital age.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Brian Panhuyzen

Brian Panhuyzen is the author of the short-story collection The Death of The Moon (Cormorant, 1999) and a novel, The Sky Manifest (ECW, 2013).

Go to Brian Panhuyzen’s Author Page